Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jennifer Givhan's Voice

Dear Mr. Romney,

As a graduate student, earning my Master’s degree in English, I paid over twenty-thousand dollars (taking out private loans and “borrowing from my parents”) to adopt my son domestically from Michigan because I wanted to be a mother so badly. My degree was paid for with scholarships, grants, and more loans. I was twenty-three years old.

At the time, my husband was successfully working for a major corporation, making a good salary (though, of course, not enough to move us anywhere near out of the 47%).

Then the recession hit, and my husband lost his job. Terrifyingly, we also lost our health insurance.

My position as an adjunct professor at several community colleges didn’t offer insurance. I’m what we call a “freeway flyer,” picking up classes at sometimes three or four different colleges and universities within a thirty mile radius in order to piece together a full course-load each semester so that I can be paid half the amount of what “full-time” instructors who are teaching the same number of classes earn. However, as a “freeway flyer,” I am without critically imperative benefits, such as health insurance. This fact is yet another effect of education budget cuts.

So I got Medi-Cal for my son. My beautiful domestically adopted son. My sunshine. The boy his birthmother handed to me and trusted me to care for. To provide a better life for. Because my husband and I were educated and (at the time) well-employed.

I’m so thankful that people in California are willing to pay a few extra dollars each month in taxes so that children without health insurance can go to the doctor when they’re sick. That moms and dads in California without the money to pay don’t have to worry about not taking their sons or daughters to the hospital when they’re burning of fever that won’t relent despite baths and cool washcloths and Tylenol because they’re scared of the bill they could never afford—thousands and thousands of dollars for a single emergency visit. I know that even a few hours in the ER is outrageously expensive.

I know this because a few months after my son got Medi-Cal, I got pregnant. Joyously. Miraculously. A previously infertile woman, I was pregnant. I hadn’t tried to get pregnant. I hadn’t known I could get pregnant until I was.

And then, one night eight weeks later… I wasn’t.

In between my first and second doctor visits, before I took my Medi-Cal paperwork to my obstetrician (a wonderful doctor who accepts Medi-Cal for pregnant women), I began bleeding. In line to obtain my free H1N1 flu vaccine from the county health department at the fairgrounds in Hacienda Heights, the blood came.

Because my hormone levels were dropping so quickly, the pregnancy test at my doctor’s office could no longer verify for my Medi-Cal paperwork that I was pregnant (the stubborn blue line wouldn’t fully develop), and thus, I did not qualify for health insurance.

That night, when the blood wouldn’t stop and my fever wouldn’t break, my husband drove me to the emergency room, where, with unbearable grief, I miscarried our baby.

Two weeks later, I received a bill for seven thousand dollars. Seven thousand. I hadn’t even stayed overnight. Maybe for the other 53% this isn’t much, but for the rest of us, this is several months of wages (at the time, for my family, six months’ worth).

My hands trembling, tears dripping on my shirt, I sat on a bench at the park while my two-year-old son played on the jungle gym, and I called the hospital to see if I could work something out. There was nothing they could do, they said. I didn’t have insurance. But because I had credit cards, they assumed I should be able to pay. Apparently, it didn’t matter that those cards were maxed out—as they’d been used in the months before to buy other important things, like groceries.

Three years later, my husband is a Registered Nurse working two excellent jobs, and though I’m still working as an adjunct instructor between several different colleges and universities in New Mexico where we now live, my family has access to health insurance. For now. But tomorrow?

You, Mr. Romney, seem to believe that far too many Americans are dependent on government support and this is not sustainable or desirable. You’d like Americans to be industrious, hard-working, self-supporting and contributing to the country’s growing economy.  Well, my family is on our way to our American dream, but getting started sometimes means being in a position of needing government (as well as community and family) assistance. Our story represents millions of young families struggling financially to get started in successful careers. In many other facets of life it is considered common sense to give beginners the extra help they need to get started.  It is a naive and arrogant insult for someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth to criticize a beginning family for needing help getting started.

We aren’t moochers, we are the young, the next generation coming of age and continuing the American experience. We (especially mothers) are the strength of this nation. Previous generations of Americans have helped their young come into young adulthood (e.g., GI Bill, tuition free college in California in the 1960s); why should we now be sacrificed to giant finance (privatizing social security and our schools, vouchering Medicare)?

I’d rather live in a country where loss of job, loss of health insurance, loss of baby does not equal immense debt—financial stress atop heart ache. In a country where we needn’t miscarry our dreams amidst painful obstacles but can emerge healed, triumphant, and ready to begin anew.

For Obama’s healthcare plan, for the access ALL women should have to affordable healthcare, for the 47%, for my family, I am voting for Obama.

Jennifer Givhan

Jennifer Givhan was a 2010 PEN Emerging Voices Fellow, a 2011 St. Lawrence Book Award finalist, and a 2012 National Latino Writers' scholarship recipient. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in over forty journals, including Rattle, The Los Angeles Review, and The Feminist Wire. She teaches at several colleges, including The University of New Mexico, and is an MFA student at Warren Wilson College, where she is the recipient of a grant. She recently landed an agent for her first novel and is at work on her second novel, as well as a second collection of poetry. She adopted her beautiful son in 2007 and gave birth to her strong, healthy daughter in 2010.